Three-hundred thousand protestors waved signs and shouted slogans about man-made climate change in midtown Manhattan on Sunday. Among them were representatives of the same group of religious shareholder activists who – like the swallows returning to Mission San Juan Capistrano each year – annually submit proxy resolutions to the corporations in which they invest. Some of these resolutions demand companies divest from holdings in the fossil fuel sector, draft policies geared toward limiting carbon emissions, end hydraulic fracturing or deal with carbon-based products as “stranded assets” in hopes that solar and wind energy replace them in the near future. According to the progressive online newspaper, The National Catholic Reporter:
Faith leaders joined politicians, celebrities, musicians, labor unions, and tens of thousands of concerned citizens in the march. Demonstrators waved signs that read ‘Jesus Would Drive A Prius’ and ‘System Change, Not Climate Change’ as they snaked their way through the heart of New York City.
Assuming Jesus sported whiskers, the sign heralding Toyota’s hybrid might ring true…but, wait, that bearded man rubbing elbows with the good nuns, clergy and religious of As You Sow, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility and the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia wasn’t Jesus. Instead it was only Hollywood deity Leonardo DiCaprio, who drives the way more upscale Fisker Karma plug-in (which stickers out at $102,000 to $116.000).
All good stewards of the Earth should consider an automobile that polluted as little as possible – provided it’s in the budget. They also should seek a car they could pay for without help from taxpayer subsidies. That effectively would rule out all hybrids and plug-ins, it seems, as most come with a $7,500 rebate from the federal government, according to the U.S. Department of Energy website. Keep in mind that many states such as California also offer additional rebates on “green” vehicles. Additionally, keep in mind the Prius sells for more than $30,000 – a hefty price tag for a small car declared the “latest status symbol for the wealthy.” Employing figures from TrueCar.com research, journalist Melissa Breyer discovered:
Drivers in the fifth richest city on the list, Century City in southern California (with an average annual income of $751,000) chose the Prius, followed by the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and C-Class sedans. The Volkswagen Jetta was the fifth favorite car in the community, just behind the BMW 328.
The Prius was also the car of choice in Ross, Calif., where the average annual income was $497,000. Ranked 10th on the most-wealthy list, inhabitants in this northern California enclave chose the Prius over the runners-up, luxury vehicles from the Mercedes-Benz E- Class and the Mercedes-Benz GL-Class.
Although denizens of Atherton, Calif., with an annual average income is $768,000, opted for the Mercedes-Benz E-Class as their top car, they showed their green spirit by choosing the Prius as their next most-purchased car.
Today’s vehicles emit considerably less (between 90 percent and 96 percent) and are significantly more fuel efficient than cars built before 1996. More fuel-efficient cars also contribute to increased miles driven, however, because it’s so economical. It’s absurd to speculate Jesus tootling around town in a Prius.
Yet, the climate-change crowd repeatedly relies on religious imagery and, increasingly, recruits religious for their crusade. Again, from the NCR:
Aside from drawing awareness to the climate crisis, demonstrators were drawn to the march for a variety of reasons. Many in the faith community, for example, felt a moral obligation to make their voices heard on the issue.
Steffano Montano, a theology professor at Barry University in Miami, said as a Catholic, there’s a spiritual responsibility to combat climate change.
‘By understanding creation, we can come closer to the Creator. It’s an added spiritual responsibility,” Montano told NCR. ‘Justice for the earth is something that affects everybody. It’s going to affect my daughter, my grandkids. It affects the poor in ways we are still trying to come to terms with. And it’s our fault. So that’s why we’re here. It’s on us to make a difference.’
Similarly, Franciscan Sr. Kathy Dougherty from the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia said climate change is a life issue that desperately needs to be addressed.
‘I certainly feel it’s critical, the way corporate decisions are made that affect the environment, and I feel there’s a need for a change. If we can’t sustain the planet, human life is not going to be sustained; therefore, it’s very much a life issue,’ Dougherty said.
But for Catholic organizers of the march, the solution lies in morality, not politics.
‘I think of [climate change] as a moral issue,’ Patrick Carolan, executive director of the Franciscan Action Network, told NCR. ‘Part of the problem is we look at it as a moral and ethical issue, and we’re looking for political solutions. We really need to be looking at moral and ethical solutions. The only solution as Christians is to follow the teachings of Jesus, where we look at all of God’s creation as our brother and sister, as St. Francis did.’
While this writer vociferously acknowledges humankind is instructed to be careful stewards of the Earth and all its denizens (with the one glaring exception of mosquitoes), he also accepts that Christians are called to assist the neediest by helping them feed themselves and lift themselves from poverty by the most practical means possible. This has been done in the past and continues in the present through relatively cheap and plentiful fossil fuels. Exchanging fossil fuel-derived power for (currently) more expensive solar and wind power generation, which are not without inherent environmental deficits, would keep more cultures impoverished, and quite possibly push millions more into financial despair.